Save the Marwah Valley for all to see

 

By an occasional correspondent:

Denis Buchan BSc. MEngSc, past member Institional Engineers Australia

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2) Some of the guys forming a protest committee located in Marwah Valley

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Section 1. The fabulous Marwah Valley- entrance way to Kishtwar National Park

Many of you may be wondering why a foreigner would pick this place the Marwah Valley to write about. Well the fact of the matter is I have been to this valley many times over the last 8 or so years. Before the problems in Kashmir erupted this valley was considered one of the treasured walks linking Kishtwar in Jammu to as far north as Sonamarg or even into Zanskar.

P1040404.JPG The valley is lined with deodar, chinar and walnut trees, wild strawberries, mushrooms and much more. My first visit stunned me as the Marwah river was so beautiful then with no roads and self sufficient villages along the way which still welcomes the few trekkers who venture this way. The government also recognized that the beauty of this area had to be preserved and made the largest national park in J&K Kishtwar National Park.

Perhaps the Indian Government thinks that these people are backward, maybe what one would call an indigenous people. But this is far from the truth. The kids all attend schools and want to learn. They also know how to entertain themselves. We talked about these things many times in my early visits. Yes they definitely needed better facilities for communication. Yes they needed a proper hospital and yes facilities for their schools. To some extent the people overcome these disadvantages as the non farming population spent the colder months in Kishtwar or Jammu.

These disadvantages have existed for a long time and the Government (State as well) should be embarrassed about how little help they have given these people. Strangely enough more money was spent on the Army and Police Force than help with these basic needs. Right up to the present minimum consultation with the people has not occurred. Good communication is a principle of good governance. I talk about these things not because I wish to cast blame but to highlight the ongoing problem leading to protests and more owing to the continuing lack of dialogue over the proposed flooding of the valley under this new proposed hydro-electric scheme.

P1040320.JPG Perhaps now is the time to describe how the combination of the Pakel, Burser dams Hydroelectric scheme is meant to work. There will be two dams built; the one near Akali called the Pakel Dul Dams the one connected to the Power Plant via tunnels. This earth filled dam is quoted as 167 metres high and its headwaters go back as far as Lopara with some of the lower village and prosperous rice paddies thereabouts all being flooded. The other dam is the Burser Dam whose primary function is to maintain a water flow to the Pakel dam when the rivers stopped flowing with the onset of winter. The contact for the Pakel Dam has been awarded to the Chenab Valley Power Project. This is a consortium. The water from the Pakel Dul Dam is delivered through two 7.2 diameter tunnels about 10km long to an underground power station near the village Dul where there are 4 by 250mw turbines to produce the design requirement of 1000mw.

The position of the Burser dam has a mighty impact on the Marwah Valley. The planners have obviously chosen this position because of the large amount of water that will be available. I suspect they didn’t even visit the area with all assessments being done by something like Google maps. It would seem to be the position chosen based on convenience rather than any considerations of what areas are populated.

The Marwah Valley – FINALLY

Last year I was fortunate enough to visit the Marwah Valley as part of my trek from Sonder to Baital . This was a great adventure but the need to return even if only to see parts of it again seemed important to me. I was especially upset when my camera disappeared in the final hours probably stolen on the bus I took from Baital to Waya at the very end of this long walk.

On this trek I was hosted by many families as paid accommodation doesn’t seem to exist although it has been written up in older documents that Forestry provide rest houses. I did see a few of these on route but they looked as if they hadn’t been used for some time. Rather than try to make do in such a lonely place I naturally succumbed very quickly to the hospitality that was offered.

But I am digressing. The purpose of this article is now to take you to Yordu and to Bilal’s family home. Bilal’s family hosted me last year and his brother Umfat was my guide and porter for several days last  year. So I was looking forward to meeting them again and perhaps getting to know them more. Contact however and prearrangement’s are very difficult to make as there is no communication channels to these people. Whether the reason for this is due to the terrain or the army’s viewpoint that the region is dangerous for terrorists I was unable to determine. So as I walked down the valley I really had no idea who would be at home.

But my hosts had an inkling that I would turn up as we are able to communicate in the winter months when they move from the valley to stay in Kishtwar which has full facilities and remains open all year.

So when I woke up that morning  after a hectic night with the J&K police in the shared jeep I was keen to be on my way. The horse-camp is really at the end of the traffic able road from Inshan. It is the 22nd of July and Ramadan is in full swing. Prayers are 8 times a day and fasting commences from daylight to dusk. And fasting is not only for food but liquids as well. The people seem very adept in their acceptance and their doesn’t seem to be many sneaking an odd snack. However however difficult it may be for them they seem to instinctively accept that I am not of their ilk and I am constantly offered tea or food whenever it is available. The pony men seem to be an exception to the rule. They don’t eat but they might have some water. So after some tea, rice and sweet biscuits I am ready to depart. Of course everyone wants me to take a photo of our group for what reason I don’t know as they will probably never get to see them.

A excavator is desecrating the existing track but the old footbridge still effectively divides the old world from the rest of the world. What a beautiful day I was full of mounting enthusiasm. As I noted in my diary ‘that the road is smashing its way down the valley with the help of this excavator which does its deed in the few months of summer. I am calling it a road but it is more like a destructive serpent. It has already destroyed the layout of the old path with its carefully laid flagstones and pleasant little footbridges which cross the many side streams. Even since last year the extent of the damage has multiplied with the excavator already beyond Yordu having crossed the river in the winter months when the flows stop and what remains of the river probably ices over.’